Describing the ongoing India-Pakistan tensions as a “very, very hot tinderbox”, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he would “love to be the mediator or arbitrator” if it was necessary and if the two countries wanted him to.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times before his address to Indian-Americans on Saturday, Trump spoke about several issues that hold significant importance for India, including its fight on terrorism, its relation with Pakistan, and even the H-1B visa program.
“We will have to be very, very strong with respect to radical Islamic terrorism. It’s a tremendous problem. We have a president that doesn’t want to use the term. We have to be very powerful, very strong on radical Islamic terror,” Trump replied when asked about what he would do about Pakistan or the neighbourhood. Trump had said these were the source of terrorist attacks in the US, such as San Bernardino.
But when pressed for plans for Pakistan, he said, “Well, I would love to see Pakistan and India get along, because that’s a very, very hot tinderbox... That would be a very great thing. I hope they can do it.”
“Look at the recent problem that you (India) had and other problems that you have had over the years,” he added, making an oblique reference to the Uri terror attack and the flare-up in Indo-Pakistan tensions.
Asked if he would like to play a role, Trump said, “If it was necessary I would do that. If we could get India and Pakistan getting along, I would be honoured to do that. That would be a tremendous achievement... I think if they wanted me to, I would love to be the mediator or arbitrator.”
India opposes third-party mediation on Kashmir -- the main issue of contention between the two countries -- and was worried when President Barack Obama suggested in 2008 that the US “should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis”. That was the last time he spoke about a role for the US.
Trump also addressed the another big issue for Indians -- the H-1B visa program. Earlier in the year, Trump took a critical stand, and said he would impose restrictions on the visa category, claiming India and China were taking away American jobs. However, on Saturday, the Republican presidential candidate said he favoured the H-1B, but it has some “big deficiencies” that needed to be fixed.
Though he understood the US needs skilled workers, and he has used this program himself, “at the same time we have to take care of American jobs and I have always said America first at all levels … but we do need skill coming (to the US)… when we need the skill we can do that .. but I really do want to take care of American jobs and America first”, he said.
Indian IT firms are the largest recipient of the H-1B, and a restriction on it would significantly impact the industry. Right now the annual cap on the visa is 85,000, Trump said, adding there were those who favoured it and others who wanted cuts.
“We will look at it very carefully and we are going to be studying it over the next coming months. The program has some very big deficiencies but also has some assets,” he said.
He nevertheless took the opportunity to convey his regard for India.
“I have great love for India, because I have so many friends from India … the Hindu people, I will say, are amazing.”
Trump later went on to build on this sentiment in his address to the Indian American community attending the charity event hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition.
When asked about his view on India and China, he said, “It’s a rivalry, both in size and the economy, and you look at what is happening. These are massive countries.”
If elected president, will he take sides?
“Well, I am going to be a president that is impartial but I love India. I have always respected India. I have got jobs in India, and you know I have buildings in India that are very, very successful … I have great respect for India, and the people of India.”
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